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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Negligence as Spectacle

by Libardo Gómez Sánchez,

Diario del Huila

Neiva, October 18, 2010

 (Translated by Peter Lenny, a CSN Volunteer Translator. Edited by Teresa Welsh, CSN's Volunteer Editor.)

For a few days the Atacama Desert became the chosen backdrop against which hundreds of floodlights and cameras were turned, as if on Hollywood stars, on the Piñeras, who managed to turn a deplorable episode into one of the highest-profile media extravaganzas of recent times. The spectacle successfully buried some obvious questions from TV viewers minds: Why did the accident happen? Did the miners go down in at least minimum conditions of safety or were they, on the contrary, being rushed headlong to their deaths? Even though, every day, numerous incidents put underground and open-cast miners' lives at risk, what seems to predominate is the investors' measureless ambition to squeeze returns out of their business, rather than safeguarding the workers in life and limb, because that would represent costs.

The events that took place at the San José mine are doubly significant: on the one hand, they underline man's ability to withstand, both those who were ready to hold out deep under ground and those who were determined to rescue them and, on the other, they are yet another warning to those who are out to plunder nature with no thought for the risks it entails. At a time when Colombia's mining policy is attracting leading foreign corporations, because of the magnificence with which the State treats them, for the privileges it grants them in taxes, royalty payments, environmental management, employment regulations, legal security and profit repatriations. If the authorities and laws do not force the multinationals to comply with basic industrial safety rules and support small-scale mining with technical and financial resources, then we will be reporting increasing numbers of foreseeable tragedies in the immediate future.

More precisely, one related issue has monopolized the attention of those living in the regions that receive royalty payments for the exploitation of natural resources, such as oil, gold, nickel, coal and so on, taken from their subsoil: a constitutional amendment designed to take management of these resources out of their hands and to put it under central government control has been drafted. In order to discuss this issue, various political, business and government representatives met in the municipality of Aipe-Huila. What caught our attention most strongly were the remarks by some of the media, which summarized the conclusions of the event as being that the governor and mayors are centering their hopes of halting the injustice on hiring a pool of lawyers to demonstrate that the bill is unconstitutional. If that works, it will lay bare either major stupidity or enormous cynicism, because it is no secret that the congress, and approval of a bill, is exactly the chosen avenue for legalizing what is illegal. Both the former and the present governments have given clear demonstrations that they scorn any idea of respect for the will of the communities; at least two law reforms were delivered to cut back fund transfers to the districts and municipalities, and those actions ran counter to the spirit of decentralization; two licenses for the same project were issued by the Environment Ministry, in order to meet the demands of the multinational that had been granted the concession to build the Quimbo Dam. It would be no surprise if others were issued halfway through the process, so as to smooth the terrain and benefit the interests of EMGESA over those of Colombian firms.

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